State against Aer Lingus’ entire sale

THE Government will attempt to block any sale of Aer Lingus’ valuable landing slots at Heathrow once the airline is privatised, Finance Minister Brian Cowen has indicated.

Speaking at an IMI management conference in Wicklow yesterday, the minister said the Government had no plan to sell the entire airline once it is floated on the stock exchange.

Minster Cowen was speaking as Aer Lingus chief executive Dermot Mannion told the Oireachtas Transport Committee the company intended retaining a presence in Heathrow.

Mr Mannion was responding to committee members who expressed concern that disposal of the landing slots would create difficulties for Irish passengers wishing to use the world hub airport.

“Heathrow is a profitable operation for Aer Lingus. I expect that to continue. I expect Aer Lingus to have a presence at Heathrow into the future,” he said.

Mr Mannion said part-privatisation of the semi-state company was the best way to secure its future.

“I honestly believe, and I’ve had extensive meetings across the organisation, not just with unions, but with members of staff, and my view to them is that the best way of ensuring job security for all of us going forward is that Aer Lingus can continue to build on its successful track record,” he said.

But unions, including SIPTU and IMPACT, told the committee they remained concerned about a number of issues, including pensions, job security and the possible dilution of the employees’ 15% share of the airline.

IMPACT deputy general secretary Shay Cody said the Government must keep 35% after flotation instead of the 25% currently proposed.

SIPTU national industrial secretary Michael Halpenny said the sale would only generate between €300 million €400m - the price of four wide-bodied jets.

“So effective ownership and control is being handed over for less than one quarter of the company’s capital needs (€1.6 billion), or four planes,” he said.

However, although SIPTU remains opposed to the part-privatisation, it would go along with the flotation once concerns on pensions, job security and share ownership are addressed.

Should those demands not be met, the union has issued Aer Lingus with two weeks’ strike notice.

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